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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 26 June, 2023
Expert travel writer: Luciana Bellini

The Pacific Coast Highway – or PCH as locals lovingly refer to it – is a stunning stretch of coastal highway that runs along the ocean from Santa Monica right up to Malibu. To the left, you’ll see surfers riding the waves; to the right are multimillion-dollar homes precariously perched on the cliffs.

Once you get to Malibu, take a stroll to the end of Malibu pier, where you’ll find the Ranch at the Pier boutique. Run by local resident Alice Bamford (the daughter of British JCB billionaire Antony Bamford), this is the place to come to pick up surf gear and stylish knick-knacks. Also on the pier is Malibu Farm, a great spot for organic Cali-inspired dishes, or tuck into baskets of fried shrimp with the local bikers at Neptune’s Net.

To avoid the crowds, head to some of the lesser-known, slightly more inaccessible beaches – Point Dume and Leo Carillo are some of the loveliest in the area and are both great spots for watching surfers and the sunset.

Also uncrowded and pristine, Malibu Lagoon State Beach is one of LA’s best stretches of sand – watch for whales and dolphins off-shore. It’s also an estuary with a wetlands area, great for bird-watching with tide pools ripe for exploration. There’s excellent surfing here, including Surfrider Beach, one of LA’s most famous breaks.

Drive it in style

For the best wheels in town, from classic 1970s Corvettes to sleek Porsche Boxsters, head to Beverly Hills Rent-A-Car, self-confessed specialists in ‘exotic and prestige vehicles’.

Stay the night

Formerly a run-down motel, The Surfrider was given a mega-makeover in 2017 to transform into a stylish beach lodge. Just across the road from Malibu Pier, it’s now home to 20 light-filled rooms and a fantastic rooftop terrace where guests gather around the fire pit to watch the sun set, cocktail in hand.

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around
Duration: 35+ minutes

Getting there & doing it

The easiest way to get to the Santa Monica portion of the PCH from central LA (i.e. Hollywood or West Hollywood) is to drive all along Sunset Boulevard until you hit the coast, and then turn right. There are numerous places to pick up a hire car in Santa Monica, including the big names like Hertz and Enterprise.

The drive itself is fairly straightforward and takes 30-40 minutes (without traffic).

When to do it

If you attempt to drive it anywhere near rush hour (roughly between 7am-10am and 4pm-7pm), be prepared for LA’s notorious bumper-to-bumper traffic. Still, at least that view over the sparkling Pacific does something to soften the traffic jam road rage.

Hop on it a few hours before sunset, and trace your way north along the coast, ending at Paradise Cove in Malibu. The beachfront bar-slash-cafes’ seats on the sand are the perfect place to catch the sun setting over the water.

Destination guides

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Los Angeles

California, United States of America (USA)

Los Angeles

The bright lights of Tinseltown are home to surfer-filled beaches, glorious mountain hikes, glitz and glamour in spades and year-round sunshine.